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General News of Tuesday, 14 January 2003

Source: Daily Graphic

Truth Panel Begins Hearings

The National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) begins public hearing of complaints from victims of human rights violations today (Tuesday) at the Old Parliament House in Accra.

The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, is expected to perform the inaugural ceremony, which will attract high-profile local and foreign guests, including Dr Alex Borraine, the Deputy Chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the founder of the International Centre for Transitional Justice in New York.

The inaugural ceremony will be strictly by invitation after which the public will be admitted to the hearings. The commission has set aside Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for public hearing during which a minimum of 15 cases will be heard.

More than 100 of the 2,800 complaints so far received by the commission have been fully investigated and slated for hearing. Statements so far taken from witnesses cover abductions, killings, disappearances, torture, ill treatment and seizure of property.

The periods under review, as defended by Act 611, which set up the commission, are 24 February 1966, to 21 August 1969; 13 January 1972 to 23 September 1979 and December and 31 December 1981 to 6 January 1993.

However, people desirous of lodging complaints or petitions in respect of violations or human rights abuses during constitutional government governments and between 6 March 1957 and 6 January 1993, are encouraged to do so with the commission.

The commission is expected to hold both public and private hearings for a period not exceeding one year from the date of its first hearing except that for a good cause shown by the commission, the President may by Executive Instrument, extend the term of the commission for a further period of six months.

At the end of its work, the commission shall within three months, submit its final report to the President. The Investigations Department of the commission has started servicing notices to all parties to appear before the commission on the hearings days.

The object of the hearings is to afford alleged victims of human rights violations and persons involved in human rights violations the opportunity to tell their stories, seek redress in the process and contribute to national healing and reconciliation.

The hearings will also provide a unique opportunity for the general public to appreciate the nature and patters of human rights violations during the military regimes. Ms Annie Anipa, Director of Public Affairs of the commission, said in an interview that the hearings will be conducted in accordance with the rules of natural justice and procedural fairness with the prime consideration that a miscarriage of justice does not occur.

“The reconciliation hearings will be qualitatively different from court hearings in the sense that unlike a court hearing, the aim of the reconciliation hearings will not be to decide who wins and who loses in a particular case,” she said.

She added that the commission is a quasi-judicial body and, therefore, a semi-formal procedure will be adopted for the hearings with the aim of obtaining relevant and appropriate information to assist the commission in determining the veracity or otherwise of the statements received.

Ms Anipa said the procedure will also enable the commission to make appropriate recommendations for redress in respect of individual complaints and for fostering reconciliation, showing respect to the victims or witnesses and providing a platform for healing the hurt of others.
She said each witness will be led by counsel for the commission and that each witness is also entitled to have his or her own counsel. She said further that if the need arises, the commission will move outside Accra to hold some of its public hearings.
Ms Anipa urged Ghanaians to focus on reconciliation and to reconcile with one another in order to enhance peace in the country. “We also wish to assure Ghanaians that we are determined to achieve the object for which the commission was set up,” she said.
She acknowledged that the task of reconciling a nation is not easy but said the commission draws inspiration from the fact that the majority of Ghanaians recognise the need to reconcile the nation, adding that “in 2003, the commission will work even harder to make the reconciliation process a reality.”
She said the work of the commission is that of peace-building, development and nation-building, observing that “this has become even more imperative as a country engaged in consolidation of democracy and the strengthening of governance institutions.”
Ms Anipa said besides providing historical clarification of human rights violations during the specified periods, the commission will direct its work towards providing victims a forum to express their grievances.
Justice K.E. Amua-Sekyi, a retired Supreme Court Judge, chairs the nine-member commission. Other commissioners are Professor Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu, Senior Lecturer of the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana; Most Rev Charles Palmer Buckle, Catholic Bishop of Koforidua; Christian Appia-Agyei, former Secretary-General of the Trades Union Congress; Lt Gen Emmanuel Erskine, former Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and Dr Sylvia Boye, formerly of the West Africa Examinations Council (WAEC).

The rest are Prof Florence Abena Dolphyne, former Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana; Maulvi Wahab Adam, Ameer and Missionary in charge of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission; Uborr Dalafu Labal II, Paramount Chief of Sangulu in the Northern Region. Dr Ken Attafuah, is the Executive Secretary of the commission.